Dean Wallraff’s Comic Criticism

I have no special expertise in comics. I am a fanatical reader of good literature, and a fairly accomplished photographer, so I have some visual sense. I started learning to draw a couple years ago when I won a free class at a local arts center in a raffle. So I’ve started drawing a cartoon character named ZenDog.

A lot of comics bore me. Superheroes, the main staple of traditional comic books, don’t interest me in their traditional form, though they can reasonably be compared to the Olympian Gods in ancient Greek and Roman mythology. But their stores are so much more childish than the deep Greek myths.

Household trivia don’t interest me much, either, though they are a staple of newspaper comics. Household trivia is fashionable in the literary world, e.g. Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I found a big bore.

I’m interested in comics for adults. It’s a bit disheartening how many of the topic 100 graphic novels listed on diamondcomics.com are for kids through teens.

I can’t stand ugly drawing. Mozart, depicting the evil Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute, wrote one of the most beautiful arias of all time. Some comics drawing, e.g. Robert Crumb, shows a world that’s ugly on the page. I don’t want to look at page after page of ugly.

It’s difficult getting the proper balance of text and pictures. Often, there is so much dialog that successive panels have to keep depicting the same thing. The visual repetition serves no artistic purpose. Sometimes the conventions of an illustrated book, with text outside the illustrations, would serve the purpose better. There is a tradition of German illustrated books from the 15th and 16th centuries (see Chapter 6 in Meggs’ History of Graphic Design) that could be an influence on comics today.

But I do like comics. This name is unfortunate, because it implies the genre is always funny. The French term “bandes designées,” meaning, basically, “designed strips” is better. The main function of a critic is to help other readers appreciate the art better. Some critics so obviously hate the art they write about that they can’t help anyone appreciate it.

I hope that I, as an outsider, can contribute an interesting perspective to the world of comics.